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Thursday, Dec 27, 2012 1:30am
Reports: US Mac mini production, IGZO to be default displays
A pair of unconfirmed reports from the sometimes-accurate Taiwanese trade publication DigiTimes claims that Apple is exploring the idea of moving Mac mini production to a Foxconn Electronics facility in the US, and that Apple is evaluating switching its iOS devices to IGZO display panels in a rollout of revisions across 2013. Sharp, the company behind the IGZO technology, has allegedly licensed Innolux Corporation and may possibly add AU Optroics to help produce displays.

Both Foxconn and Quanta Computer -- another major OEM partner with Apple -- have facilities in the US that could be outfitted with automated production lines for the Mac mini, though either would still need to recruit tech workers. The report makes somewhat more sense than the earlier report that had Apple using US facilities for all iMac production.

The Mac mini, while rising in popularity, isn't as big a seller as the iMac, allowing Apple the ability to better control the more limited production run in order to gauge the effectiveness of US-based production. While some iMacs are now assembled in the US, bringing the full production to the country may prove both problematic and expensive

Apple is thought to be shipping around 1.4 million Mac minis this year, and expects to grow that figure to 1.8 million units in 2013, according to a DigiTimes estimate. Mac mini shipments grew 40 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, and are set to rise 30 percent more in the new year. A move to bring Mac mini production to the US would fulfill a pledge by Apple CEO Tim Cook that the company would bring "one of [Apple's] Mac lines" into the US for manufacture.

The report that Apple is considering switching to all-IGZO (indium-gallium-zinc oxide) displays for its iOS lineup next year is borne of the company's ongoing relationship with troubled electronics maker Sharp. Apple is supposedly talking with both Sharp itself as well as longtime supplier AU Optronics about handling production of the panels, which are capable of higher resolutions with less need for a strong backlight, allowing for even thinner displays.

Sharp has been known to have received some financial aid in various forms from Apple, Qualcomm, and Foxconn. The technology shows promise for allowing future displays to support higher resolutions without needing bigger batteries or adding bulk.

Industry sources told DigiTimes that if new licensees such as Innolux or AU Optronics can provide both sufficient quantity and quality of displays, the annual refresh of various iOS devices expected next year could see all-new display technology rolled out across the line, further reducing Apple's dependence on Samsung as a manufacturing partner.